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Because Being Healthy Means Not ALWAYS Being Healthy

In my AnneTheRD nutrition counseling work, I spend a lot of time helping clients change their mindsets about food. When they first start working with me, many of my clients describe foods as “good” or “bad” – often offhand, like they don’t even realize they are doing it because it has become so engrained in how they think.

Many of my clients come to me thinking that if they aren’t eating perfectly, it’s a failure. Food has become completely black and white for them, and they feel guilty if they eat something that they deem less than perfect, or that fits into that “bad” category in their minds.

I always cringe a little inside when I hear people proclaim how they are being “bad” by eating something delicious or how they “shouldn’t” eat something even though they want it, because it just reinforces that mentality in those around us (as well as in themselves). The mentality that we should feel bad if we are having something delicious. The mentality that pleasure from food is not okay. The mentality that most diets and calorie counting will lead you towards.

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Obviously, as a dietitian, I love nutritious food, and I think people should eat it most of the time. But most of the time does not mean always. I love lightened up recipes and making healthy versions of old favorites (in fact, I have a nice lightened up comfort food recipe coming at ya tomorrow), but I also think sometimes you just need to have the real thing. Or indulge in something special. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s good for you. Denying yourself never ends well in the long term.

I started thinking about this more last week, when, in the Winter Shape Up Facebook group, one of the members shared that she had had pizza the night before for dinner, and how guilty she felt about it. Guilt is the enemy of good health, my friends. Feeling guilty is what will lead you to that “Screw it, since I’ve ruined everything already by having x thing, I’m going to eat this entire cake now.” It’s what leads you to think that if one meal or bite isn’t perfect, that you’re a complete failure.

Guys: I consider myself a healthy eater, and I love wine, beer, burgers, fries, chicken fingers, pizza (especially with pepperoni), bacon, ice cream, pastries, cookies, pie… the goes on. And when I occasionally have these things, I don’t view it as a failure at all.

A good example: earlier this week, these arrived at our house.

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Clearly, Girl Scout Cookies are far from healthy and far from the whole, real food that I preach as well. But you know what? As I’ve always said, a big part of eating healthy meaning not ALWAYS eating healthy. There’s no reason to feel guilty about treating yourself every once in awhile, when you are actually paying attention to the experience and have decided it’s worth it. The only failure, in my eyes, is if you have a treat and don’t enjoy it. What a waste, right?

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Sure, I don’t eat pizza, burgers, fries, cookies, and ice cream every single day, and I don’t indulge in them all at once, either. I wouldn’t feel so great if I did. But if it’s a day where I’m truly craving one of these things, then I will have it. If I can add some salad in there to get a little volume from veggies at the same time, great. If not, it’s not the end of the world.

MY OTHER RECIPES


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When I was a senior in high school, I lived with my grandparents for the year, since my parents (and brother) had to move away for my dad’s job and I didn’t want to leave my school. One of my favorite memories from living with my grandparents was that almost every afternoon, they would have tea and cookies. There was nothing guilty or secret or “oh, we shouldn’t be doing this” about it – they just sat down, enjoyed each other’s company and some tea and cookies, and moved on with their days.

Next time you want a treat, think of my grandparents. Slow down. Actually pay attention to what you’re having. Savor it. And then – move on. <3

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Comments

  1. 1

    Loved this so much. Thank you. Such an important reminder but hard to break the habit of feeling guilty!! I’m guilty of it and I’m trying to train myself to stop

  2. 2

    Great post! I have struggled with disordered eating so much in the past. I have gone from extreme dieting and exercising to bingeing on every single piece of junk food I can find until I am sick to my stomach. I am working to change the attitudes I have about food. In the past, I would see eating four or five girl scout cookies as tragedy so I would then just eat the whole box in one sitting. My reasoning was that I had already messed up so I might as well eat all the cookies I can so they aren’t around to tempt me anymore. Crazy, right? But now I have changed so much. I am not saying I don’t feel the occasional guilt (I am working on that). But I am better about bingeing. Last week, I had four thin mints and stopped at that. I had eaten healthy all day and worked out for an hour and I figured that one treat was not going to cause me to gain 20 pounds in one night. Also, I am temporarily living in Naples, Italy right now, which is AWESOME. On one hand, it’s a bit easier to eat healthy because they cook with fresh ingredients and have smaller portions. On the other hand, there is gelato everywhere and so many treats! I just have to find a balance. If I am craving gelato, I get it. I just make sure that a) I am actually hungry and craving it as opposed to just eating it because it’s there and 2) that I don’t eat three scoops of gelato every single day. I guess I could go on and on, but I just wanted to say thank you for this post. It is nice to hear from a nutritionist that it’s okay to not eat healthy every once in a while. :)

    • 3

      Thank you, Cynthia, for reading and for this wonderful comment! I’m so happy to hear that you are working to improve your relationship with food. Sounds like your journey is going well. :) I’m so jealous you’re in Italy – the gelato photo in this picture is from Italy, actually! Best gelato ever.

  3. 4

    your grandparents sound awesome! that’s such a nice little treat. great advice re: “bad” and “good.” i also agree: pepperoni is the best pizza topping on earth.

  4. 6

    Your best blog ever! So sensible and achievable!

  5. 7

    Thanks for sharing! I too cringe whenever a client tells me that they are “bad” for eating whatever they had. Especially since 99% of the time, they’re things that I too love! Love your quote “Guilt is the enemy of good health” so so true!

  6. 8

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m a psychologist, so I really appreciate how you talk about changing one’s mindset about food, because I try and help clients do this all the time. This can be applied to lots of things! I think sometimes we can be so rigid about what’s “good” or “bad” that we end up punishing ourselves so much, causing further damage. I’ve been participating in the Winter Shape Up, and in this short time, I can see the difference in my attitude about food. I feel so much more relaxed and forgiving to myself, which in turn makes me happier and healthier. Thank you!

  7. 10

    What a cute ritual you had with your grandparents!

  8. 11

    I adore this post. I am currently in a nutrition graduate program and my mouth dropped when I heard one of my professors (who is a practicing RD) say eating flour is like putting toxic chemicals into your body. What kind of message is that suppose to send? Fear of food is crippling for so many people. Thank you for being a voice of true health.

  9. 13

    Couldn’t agree more that it’s a much better mindset to have. I used to binge badly and it was almost always triggered by thoughts of having eaten a “bad” or “banned” food pr having gone over my daily allowance. I’ve been intuitive eating for about 1,5 years on and off and given up diets for good since November but it wasn’t until last Saturday when I had a delicious (I’m still dreaming about it!) burger and fries with my best friend without thinking twice about it that I realized how far I’ve come. Binging didn’t even cross my mind – I enjoyed the burger, moved on and woke up hungry the next morning ready for breakfast!

    • 14

      That’s amazing, Annie! Proud of you for how far you have come!

      • 15

        Thank you :) I have to admit it’s partly thanks to blogs like yours and thereallife-rd – you guys have showed me that yes you can eat and no you won’t put on tons on weight just because you’re having actual regular normal and delicious food :D

  10. 17

    So true! Also, one does not always need a entire slice of pizza (although, nothing wrong with it when you are hungry). Sometimes a deliberately chosen, but small slice or one scoop of gelato will satisfy the craving at that moment and provide so much more satisfaction, when truly enjoyed.

  11. 21

    What great perspective. Thanks for sharing. :)

  12. 22

    Ahh definitely sharing this with a friend who said she was giving up “sweets” for lent because they are bad for you… I talked about making homemade healthier desserts, eating intuitively and in moderation and she continued to tell me I was wrong and that sweets arent nourishing at all. I’m not saying to have all the added sugars you want but there’s nothing wrong with the occasional black bean brownie, full fat ice cream, or Girl Scout cookies- healthy means mind and body friends :)

  13. 24
    gina (fitnessista) says:

    loved this soooo much. xoxo

  14. 25

    1,000% YES. :)

  15. 26

    absolutely love this!! it makes me so sad when people think that being healthy means being perfect all the time. but what’s life if you can’t enjoy a few treats now and then?

  16. 27

    YES. I hate when people say they feel guilt about something they ate – if I’m going to eat that ice cream then you bet I’m going to feel good about it too! :)

  17. 28

    I love this post…especially the part about your grandparents. It’s such a simple thing to do (focus on what you’re eating) yet so difficult! Love this. Thank you.

  18. 29

    Yep, I don’t have much to say either except this was an awesome post. As a phys ed teacher in high schools, I avoid using “bad” and “good” when it comes to foods. Young girls use those terms ALL the time.

  19. 31

    To reiterate what everyone else is saying….thank you so much for this post! This is something I’ve always struggled with. The past couple months I’ve really been trying to reset my mindset about “dieting”. Been trying out lots of new recipes (not always super “healthy”, but that just sound good to me), and not freaking out if I have a cookie at work. And you know what? I’ve actually been losing weight :) That wasn’t happening in the yo-yo cycle of dieting!

  20. 32

    I love this and totally agree with you! I consider myself to be a pretty healthy eater most of the time, but a life without pizza or red wine would be really sad.

    Afternoon tea and cookies sounds awesome and I think I should start a trend in my office :-)

  21. 33

    I definitely understand what you are saying here, and agree that no food is “good” or “bad,” but I feel like there is a rather sizable population that goes unacknowledged with this approach that many RDs advocate. Specifically, people who have impaired insulin responses and/or food addictions, with the former quite possibly exacerbating the latter in many cases.

    For this population of people, there’s not such a thing as moderation with treats. They have a drug-addict’s level of craving for quick-release carbohydrates, and just a touch of something sweet can wreak havoc on their insulin/blood sugar levels as well as their cravings. I know that if I let myself have a small treat after a big race, I literally cannot stop thinking about sweet things for almost a week. I do so, so much better abstaining from it entirely that I do having just a little. Given the increased rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, I would guess that this population is not negligible, and I really do think it deserves some recognition.

    Again, I know this approach/advice is useful for many people, but for those who struggle, it’s potentially damaging. I’d just like to see some RDs acknowledge this more often.

  22. 35

    Great post,its pointed out to me that everything in moderation including moderation itself.
    thanks
    chris

  23. 36

    I love this post! It’s so true, and letting ourselves enjoy things in moderation while giving up guilt and restriction not only leads to physical health but also good mental health. Life is too short and often filled with too many difficulties to not enjoy a burger or beer from time to time.

  24. 37

    Great post! I know that when I “restrict” myself, it only makes things worse. I can’t count calories and have a diet mentality because it only makes me want to eat the things that my mind is saying I “shouldn’t” have. It’s a constant struggle to not feel guilty – we want to be fit and images put out there make you think you can’t eat an ounce of fat, if we want to be fit too. But that’s why I don’t follow certain fitness bloggers or accounts. It’s negative. And that’s why I love you and Gina. You look normal, strong, fit and you eat normal. If I want ice cream, I’m going to eat it. I love Doritos! Yes, I can eat a whole bag, but don’t. I have to keep the things I like in the house, so I don’t feel deprived. That way, I know it’s always there and can have a small amount and know that tomorrow, if I want a little more, I can. Anyway….I could go on and on about this. Thanks, again, for being you.

  25. 39

    I love this, Anne!! Such a balanced perspective :)

  26. 40

    Totally agree with everything you’ve said! Although I’ve been known to have a Friday night that includes more than one indulgence ;) It starts with the beer, then the pizza/burger, and then suddenly, there’s still room for dessert. Ahh well! :)

  27. 41
    Melissa C. says:

    Great Article! Great job summing up sooo much information- and adding your perspective! I loved it and felt like it brought some freedom to this area of my life! We only have one life to live- gotta enjoy a treat every now and then without feeling guilty for two days! My grandmother used to do the same – coffee and biscotti ( they ate from Sicily). Great memories!

  28. 42

    I echo all the previous comments regarding what an amazing post this was! I have just recently started my journey of intuitive eating (I am slowly working my way through the book as well), partly inspired by regularly reading your blog, among others of similar mindset. Great to hear that you love all the same “treat” foods as your readers =)

  29. 43

    Thanks Anne – this was a timely reminder for me! I love your approach to healthy eating, and whenever I feel like my mind gets off track (because for me, it’s all about what’s going on in my head), your blog inspires me to be kind to myself, be reasonable and rational in my food choices, and remove the extremes from my thinking. Thank you!!!!

  30. 44

    Thank you for this post. It’s taken me a long time to come around to this type of mindset (and it’s always a work in progress) but seeing and reading it on healthy blogs really reinforces the right way to think about food. I love when nutritionists or dieticians post things like this because it is realistic and I always hope it will help someone who has gotten a little lost with their food relationship.

  31. 45

    What if you have a sensitivity or allergy toward a food and that’s what makes you label it as bad? How do you advise your clients to have a healthy relationship with those types of foods?

    • 46

      Well, that’s a different story – if they truly can’t eat that food because of an allergy, then labeling it as “bad” is a totally different story than it would be if they were simply labeling it as “bad” for guilty/emotional reasons.

  32. 47

    I love the tea and cookies example. Such a great reminder to slow down!

  33. 48

    love love love this post! So true!!!!

  34. 49

    Life is all about balance. The love this post for so many reasons, since its definitely okay to splurge on a treat every once in awhile. Its painful to deprive ourselves of tasty treats every single day of the year, but knowing that I’ve worked out both in the gym and with my diet makes rewarding myself that much more sweet.

  35. 50

    This is so great! I also cringe when people (usually women, let’s be honest) say that they’re being “bad” because they’re eating a piece of cake or whatever. If I know the person well enough, I will even saying something like, “Well, it’s not like you’re eating the whole thing,” or ask, “But is it delicious?” That whole mentality makes me so sad because food is SUPPOSED to be enjoyed..!

    Also, the image of an older couple sitting down together and having daily tea and cookies is the cutest.

  36. 51

    I love this :)

  37. 52

    I have fallen into this trap so many times in the past and it has really screwed me up in terms of how I ate and viewed myself. It took me a long time to get over that hurdle and now I eat healthy on a pretty consistent basis but definitely make time for indulgences. I love all kinds of food and as long as Im not eating it every day, I make sure to find time to enjoy it. Life is too short to obsess over what I am or am not eating. I don’t always do this perfectly, but it’s a mentality I strive towards on a regular basis.

  38. 53

    This is a great post! I am a dietitian as well as a therapist and I work with people with eating disorders, and this is the mindset of almost everyone I work with. It is so sad to see how our society perpetuates the idea of “good” food and “bad” food. We need to keep preaching that there are not good or bad foods, and ALL foods can be part of a healthy diet. I wrote a blog post about the morality of food if you want to check it out here: http://www.melissaprestoncounseling.com/melissa-preston-counseling/good-food-bad-food-does-food-have-morals
    Keep spreading your message!!

  39. 55

    Hi Anne! Thank you for writing. It means a lot to readers coming from an RD! I totally agree with you and try to live my life as balanced as possible. I don’t really say NO to any foods, but I tend to eat pretty healthy Monday-Friday, then have many more treats and delights on the weekends. What a wonderful memory you have from living at your grandparents’ house. I love that! Have a great weekend! :)

  40. 56

    Thank you so much for this post! It’s easy for me to get caught up in “good” foods vs. “bad” foods. It’s that all-or-nothing thinking that trips me up when it comes to health and fitness goals.

  41. 57

    This is such a great post, and something I really needed to read today. Thank you!

  42. 58

    I LOVE THIS! It’s so good and encouraging to hear this from someone who knows a lot about nutrition. It makes nutrition seem less binding and more fun. A balance is what keeps life from becoming EXTREMELY stressful in either way. I know that 10 cookies doesn’t make me feel good, but it’s good to eat one and savor each bite. The reminder to just slow down and enjoy the treat makes me actually enjoy it and eat less. I enjoy a bowl of icecream more when I eat it slowly than gulping it down.

  43. 59

    Thanks so much for your post – love this! I’ve been a loyal reader only for a few months now, so forgive me if you’ve already answered this, but could you provide any insight as an RD as to how much water you drink on any given day where you workout? Obviously a day where you run ten miles will require different hydration levels than that of a yoga day, but sometimes I wonder if after hearing for so many years how important it is to drink water, if I’m drinking too much! I have a 32 oz bottle of water at my desk that I refill a few times each day at work, not including what I drink in the morning before work and when I get home. I recently read an interesting piece on another blog where he suggests that he thinks many health-conscious people are over hydrating. Thoughts? Do you just drink when you’re thirsty or have a set minimum of oz that you try and consume daily? Thanks so much!

    p.s. I used to live in (and run around) Ballston as well – love that neighborhood and your pictures bring back such good running memories!

    • 60

      Thank you for reading, Alexandra! :) Regarding water, I just drink to thirst – I wouldn’t worry about measuring amounts and all that. It’s just like intuitive eating – your body will tell you what it wants! You’ll feel sloshy if you’re drinking too much, and if you’re having too little, your pee will be too yellow.

  44. 61

    Amen sister!!!

  45. 62

    I actually don’t agree with this, I feel that ‘junk’ food only hurts our bodies and we should not crave it if we are getting enough nutrition from whole foods, but everyone is different

  46. 63

    You know how many praise hands I’m throwing up right now. <3

  47. 64

    After having struggled with an eating disorder in the past, I’ve been looking for a balance for years – one day I wanna ‘be able to eat whatever I want all day every day and not care about my body so much’ and the next day I wanna ‘eat clean, no sugar, no processed foods’.

    Again I’m trying to find a balance. Right now I’ve cut all artificial sweetener (except for the occasional pack of gum) – so no more 1.5 liters of diet coke per day (and after that bottle was gone for the day I’d continue with sugar free squash). Instead I have water with lemons, tea, and I treat myself to coconut water which I love but is unfortunately too expensive to buy regularly.

    Apart from changing my soda habits, I also decided to eat healthier but what’s keeping me going this time, which I didn’t do all the previous times (which all ended in me feeling miserable and unhappy and 5 steps back into my eating disorder), is mostly to allow myself a treat daily – yes, daily. Some people here might think it’s too much but I think it’s perfectly alright to have something daily – especially considering my past as well as the fact that most people have more than just one portion of sugar a day (even when they don’t realise it through hidden sugars in convenience food, juice, etc). Having a daily treat moment helps me a lot because if I’m craving something during the day I can tell myself ‘no, I can have it tonight’ and if I crave it after I’ve had it I can be a lot more mindful about it than before and just say ‘tomorrow night I can have more’ and to me, those thoughts are comforting and they satisfy my cravings. And if I don’t want a treat at night, I just don’t.

    The other thing I’ve never done before which I do now is to allow myself to eat as much as I want, or rather, as much as my body wants. I’ve always been stuck in counting calories and by giving up on that now (or at least, trying to as much as possible – as a recovered/recovering anorexic that’s not an easy feat) I feel a lot fitter and more satisfied – especially at night this helps, which is when the cravings come. This step is especially hard for me because of my fear to gain weight – but I try to trust my body, try to listen to it as well as possible and if it wants more food than I allowed myself the past few years, then so be it. I’d rather be a few kilo’s heavier and feeling (and looking!) healthy than a few kilo’s lighter but constantly having to worry about calories, cravings and feeling fat.

    Sorry for this wall of text, I just recognised what was said in the post and I wanted to share my experience with it.

  48. 66

    I love this post, just the title alone means so much. Finding balance is something I continue to struggle with, but I always feel proud of myself when I can go out to eat and order something like a big fresh salad and split an order of fries and not feel guilty afterwards and just feel satisfied. Thanks for posting.

    Also, my parents are super healthy and fit, but they still have “happy hour” every day after work, where they have tea and cheese and crackers.. just like your grandparents.

    • 67

      So glad to hear that you are working on this, too, Becca! That’s awesome that your parents have happy hour every day – love it!

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